ASUS ZenWiFi Review: Coverage, Everywhere

For most of us, our WiFi router isn’t really a point of contention or admiration. Largely, many South African consumers are usually quite happy to rely on entry-level purchasers or remain with the unit shipped by their Internet Service Provider (ISP), and won’t give the matter much thought beyond the frustration of trying to ensure continuous coverage across a large or oddly-shaped home dwelling.

WiFi routers, further, aren’t particularly renowned for their design. The spider-like claws of your average Netgear installation might poke into the sky, and unless you’re privileged enough to own a cylindrical router or tower from the likes of Google, you probably won’t spend too long admiring the design of your own unit.

Over the past couple of years, ASUS has set a market standard for high-performance routers – and now, its ZenWiFi bundle packages some of the best design and coverage into one neat package. Intended to bridge the gap between a product that offer great coverage, a sleek design, and security smarts for those worried about the fidelity of their network, can this offering succeed on all three counts? Let’s dive in.

Setup and design

The premise of the ZenWiFi setup is simple – to quickly establish a meshed home network.

For the uninitiated – and those who struggle with full WiFi coverage in their own homes – there are two options to extend a WiFi network. Typically, most South Africans might be more familiar with the idea of purchasing a range extender or powerline unit, which can either extend the coverage of a WiFi network wirelessly in the former case, or through a mains connection on the latter.

The ZenWiFi is a newer option for consumers, which instead of needing an extension to increase its coverage zone sees two WiFi routers work co-operatively to offer a wider coverage area.

Out-of-the-box, consumers get two such units right away. It’s rare to praise the unboxing experience of a router, but then again, the ZenWiFi duo isn’t ordinary. Upon opening the box, are greeted with an unfurling package that reveals two oblong router units, which an alternatively serve as either the primary router or an extension.

Setup is simple. After downloading the ASUS WiFi app, users simply need to connect their chosen primary router to an ethernet connection, and correspondingly enter their ISP details to sign in to their provider as with most other routers – after that, one has initial coverage.

However, in order to set up the second (extension) unit, users then need to connect their two router nodes together with an ethernet cable, after which the extension unit will inherit the credentials of its main counterpart. Thereafter, users are free to move the extension to wherever they may please in their home. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to mount either unit to a wall unless you happen to have some DIY smarts – and then again, I’d never recommend drilling into, or attempting to modify your router.

It’s always rewarding when an installation is as seamless as possible – and this is an experience that the ZenWiFi delivers well. It’s slightly disappointing that the secondary unit, as an extension, can’t be set up by a Wireless Protected Setup (WPS) and relies on an ethernet tether – but this is hardly an irritation considering that you likely won’t be changing internet service providers often, nor would you really have need to set up the router time and time again if you’re a consumer with market-average needs. There’s also a USB port present, if you’d prefer to set up your own network-attached drive. More on this later.

Something I truly appreciated was the ZenWiFi’s sleek design. As someone who’s used to an obtrusive black router and long spider’s legs hogging my sidetable with running cables linked to my Network Attached Server, it was rewarding to simplify the space with the ZenWiFi’s elegant, if simple design. A rectangular frame with oblong sides, the ZenWiFi leverages a plastic shell that pulls off the near-impossible feat of feeling comfortably premium. On the rear, affixed underneath a protruding slate, one will find space for four network ports. While that won’t be enough to please the pros, it is enough to make for a comfortable setup – especially if you regularly use wireless over wired connections.

Coverage and use

The two dimensions one really cares about when using a WiFi router is signal strength and speed. In good news, both attributes are aspects the ZenWiFi delivers on.

It’s worthwhile noting at this point that the ZenWiFi can not only serve on its own or with (more) ZenWiFi routers, but can also tether in and connect to ASUS’ other AiMesh routers. That means, when it comes to coverage, you have a number of different options to construct your network.

I’ve recently moved into a semi-attached double-story home, which means that horizontal coverage isn’t a problem for me any longer. However, the challenge I face with my own network is ensuring I get reasonable vertical coverage (my office space is directly above where my router access point is downstairs) as well as through closed doors and the many concrete walls dividing rooms in my home.

The ZenWiFi bundle was easily able to scratch this itch. With a coverage of 372 square meters at two units, this is more than enough to provide coverage throughout a typically-sized South African home. After installing one unit downstairs and the other upstairs, I had continuous coverage across my home even behind closed doors – and luckily, I was even able to remain connected to my network roughly 50 meters down and over the road regardless of whether I was on foot or in my car.

With the ZenWiFi bundle, speed is a highlight. I’m not a prolific consumer of VoD (video on demand) and instead prefer to watch content through my network-attached server. This means that, especially when watching Blu-Ray content, I can have demanding expectations of my network particularly if I happen to be multi-tasking. The ZenWiFi bundle clocked in speeds in and around 500mbps, which gives a tasty output, especially when watching video – though the box itself claims a top speed of 867 mbps.

Perhaps my only real disappointment was the slow performance of the router’s own USB port, and managed copy speeds of up to around 20mbps. This means that the ZenWiFi can be easily outclassed by many of its rivals and consumers opting for this setup might prefer to get their own dedicated NAS.

Security and extra features

Most of us might be more familiar with setting up firewalls on our router’s backend or on our own PCs, but perhaps one of the most rewarding attributes the ZenWiFi range possesses is its AiProtection feature, which offers a suite of security tools that can be set up in nearly no time at all. The AiProtection suite is perhaps most notably constituted by a Network Protection engine that’s powered by TrendMicro.

Another useful feature for families is Parental Control, which can be used to expressly block websites based on their category such as Adult or Social Networking, control certain features such as file sharing, as well as set a schedule for internet usage altogether. Unfortunately, the suite doesn’t allow one to block a specific website – meaning you’ll need to find another way to curb your Facebook addiction.

There’s also the ability to link your router to Amazon’s Alexa and IFTTT with wake-on-LAN support, and ASUS’ adaptive QoS allows you to tailor your internet service to optimise your connection for a variety of tasks (such as online gaming, voice, or another need.

Verdict

So – does the ASUS ZenWiFi deserve your hard-earned cash?

These days, a router is perhaps the quietest focal point of any home. It’s the gateway to the services we enjoy most, and is the proverbial glue that stitches devices and smart homes alike together. It isn’t enough just to be fast – a router both needs great coverage and an aesthetic appeal if it’s to take pride of place in your home.

The good news is that the ASUS ZenWiFi delivers on all three aspects. It’s modularity as a system, coupled with great coverage out of the box, will give most users a wide area of network coverage that’s fast, and what’s more, reliable.

While there are a few dissapointments – for example, the slow copy speeds offered by each router’s USB port – perhaps the biggest barrier to entry is the ZenWiFi’s cost factor. At close to R8000, this isn’t a cheap system.

Beyond that, the ZenWiFi is a great solution for families and smart home enthusiasts ready to set up the ultimate home network. With Adaptive QoS support as well as some easy-to-use parental control features, this is an ideal product if you’ve got the budget for it.

Have your say!

What are your thoughts? Would you purchase a ZenWiFi router? Be sure to let us know your opinion in the comments below!